Roger Ebert on the ‘F’ Word and ‘Bully’

In the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert writes about the rating battle over the film Bully, the power behind  the 'F' word, which appears to be the sticking point in lowering it from an 'R' to a 'PG-13', and the flawed system of the MPAA.

EbertWrites Ebert:

If a director wants to make a film against bullying, it is not for a committee of MPAA bean-counters to tell him what words he can use. Not many years ago, the word rape was not used in newspapers, on television–or in the movies, for that matter. But there is a crime, and the name of the crime is rape, and if you remove the word you help make the crime invisible.

This is yet another example of the MPAA sidestepping ethical judgments by falling back on the technicalities of its guidelines. It is even more insidious because the MPAA never clearly spells out its guidelines, leaving it to filmmakers to guess–although they often judge by past experience. It seems to me that either the f-word word is permissible, or it is not. If impermissible, nobody should use it at all in a PG-13 film. If permissible, nobody should count. Is it a magic word, a totemistic expression that dare not say its own name? Is it a vulgar equivalent of such a word as G-d?

BullyEbert predicts someone will eventually give:

The MPAA has painted itself into a corner. It will be interesting to follow this case. I suspect that the MPAA will somehow devise a way to give "Bully" a PG-13 and yet make it appear that it upholds its standards. But the fact is, unless it sticks to its R rating it has exposed the entire Code for the bean-counting it is. It will be expected again in the future to allow value judgments to affect its ratings.

In a debate after the screening, according to a later Post story, Dodd pointed out that the film could be released "unrated," and almost seemed to suggest he hopes that will happen, and let the MPAA off the hook. Harvey Weinstein, also at the screening, suggested an unrated release might be a possibility. Thus he will once again have scored one of his famous publicity coups.


  1. Doug M says

    OK color me confused… if it’s the F-word that’s causing the controversy and r-rating. How the heck did “Mommy Dearest” get a pg-13 rating. Have we forgotten the infamous “Don’t f-with me fellows!” line when Joan is speaking to the board at Pesico? Geesh!

  2. the only hank in l.a. says

    @Doug, part of the problem is that the MPAA allows saying F*ck one time in a PG-13 film. However, saying the F-word twice or more and a film will be rated R.

    I like Ebert’s rape analogy, “if you remove the word you help make the crime invisible.” For me, that is the essence of Bully–the fight of visibility. By giving the film an R rating the MPAA is helping to keep the bullied invisible.

  3. Randy says

    Bean counting? So compare a film like Slap Shot against The Usual Suspects, and tell me it doesn’t matter how many times you use the word. It’s not the only thing that matters, but it does make a difference.

  4. jim says

    How utterly ridiculous. This is a DOCUMENTARY, right? Why should documentaries even need a rating? They’re basically educational media, whether the F word is in it or not.

    My family owned and ran movie theatres for years, starting in 1912. The MPAA was a presence, but it, and a film’s rating, didn’t really come into play when grandma told her booking agent what films she wanted. Some of her choices were surprising, but she had an uncanny ability to pick unexpected winners, along with the standard hits of the day.

  5. Andy Jolley says

    I love how the “Hunger Games” (about kids KILLING each other) gets a PG-13 rating and “Bully” gets an R rating? The film that kids actually NEED to see, they CAN’T without an adult, but go can see the PG13 Child Murder Movie alone……WTF MPAA?